Dying to Self

by Madison Strauder

The past two weeks have been some of the hardest days of my life, but not for reasons you might think. There is no illness, family emergency, impending natural disaster, or local political upheaval that has me on edge. It’s nothing that can be easily worded or is simple to communicate. I guess I would say it’s because of the condition of my heart.

After spending a challenging six months in the US, my family returned to South Asia, where we’ve been missionaries for many years. When we were preparing to leave the US, people asked us if we were excited to come back to South Asia. Though that feeling may accurately describe our three kids’ attitudes about returning to the home they know and understand, excited is not a word I would use to describe my own feelings.

South Asia is much more home to my kids than the quiet countryside that I grew up calling home. They can walk down a street surrounded by thousands of people and be at ease. They can jump in whatever mode of transportation is available and seem to not mind the stares along the way, the heat, and the traffic. God has helped me do those things on a daily basis, but it will never feel natural to me like it does to them.

For me, returning to our South Asian megacity has felt like dying. Though not a physical demise, this is the dying to self that I seem to be fighting against as we work to settle back into this life. You see, somewhere along the way I believed I was entitled to certain rights—the right to breathe clean air, to live in an easy-to-maintain and lovely home, to blend into a crowd without constantly standing out, to raise my kids in a healthy and easy-to-navigate environment, to celebrate holidays and life events with my extended family. I desired an easy life.

But the reality is that as a child of God, I am not promised any of these perceived “rights.” Through these struggles with obedience, I have dwelled on Luke 9:23: “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me’” (ESV). We returned to South Asia trusting that God’s plan is better than anything we would plan for ourselves.

God has chosen to place us in a very dark place to be light bearers. The spiritual battle rages for the hearts of people, and most here do not know the freedom available to them in Christ. This is not the easy path or the path of the “American dream.” Yet, I cling to the promises I read in God’s Word. He has given us all we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3–4). He has promised to never leave us (Josh. 1:5). His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9–10). He works in us with his strength (Col. 1:29).

I know these promises to be true. I have seen the Lord’s faithfulness time and again over the years of my life and most assuredly during our time in South Asia. In light of these truths, I will choose discomfort over disobedience any day. But I know my obedience will cost me, and I am struggling with that cost. This is not a short-term mission trip, and I do not have a return ticket. This is my life.

It’s not easy or predictable. It’s not necessarily the path to prosperity or the life I would have if I stayed in America. But the Lord promises joy—confidence and peace that the anchor of my life is firmly planted even when I feel tossed in violent waves.

I’m fighting for that joy. Somehow in the midst of all this, God still wants to use me. He gives me opportunities to serve him. His power is made perfect in my weakness. So, I’m praying for him to calm this storm and help me embrace this life again: to work to get our house livable, unpack the bags, learn more language, walk out into the crowded markets to buy food for my family, and engage with people around me.

I’m praying for the strength to allow God to work in my heart so I grieve the lostness of those all around me, to advocate fiercely for the peoples of South Asia, and to challenge the global church to partner with us until all peoples and places have had an opportunity to know the grace, mercy, and eternal hope that God alone gives.

My heart is torn at times, but I know that knowing Christ and following him is worth it all. I know that any tension I feel to be at “home” is a reminder that I will never really be home until I am standing before the Lord as he welcomes me to my eternal home. I know that day will come.

May we all stand firm in that hope. May we not waste one moment of this life on things that do not bring God glory. May we walk in obedience to him today—whether that be a quiet Tennessee countryside or a bustling South Asian city. May we continue to trust that he has placed us where we are and that his plans are good. May we lift his name high today. May his light in us be a beacon in this darkness calling people to him. And may all people choose Christ and take up their cross and follow him.

Originally published here.
Edited and reprinted with permission.


Madison Strauder enjoys sharing stories from her travels around South Asia.

What Does God Want From Me?


I swayed back and forth perched on the swing. Looking out from the hilly courtyard of my flat, I could see the tall cement apartment complexes. They represented tens of thousands of people who needed to hear about Jesus.

Just beyond what I could see, was a city of two million. The vast majority did not know the love of the one true God. And then there was our specific mission—to reach high school students. There were 200 high schools and tens of thousands or more young people who had been the heart of our vision to come.

Yet, I asked God, ‘why am I here?’ It seemed as though I couldn’t touch any of them. The mission was so big and I was so small.

So with mounting emotion, I asked again, ‘why am I here?’ As I waited in the silence, I heard his answer. ‘I brought you here for you. I didn’t bring you here to be the most successful missionary, but so I could refine you and make you mine.’

It was a hard answer to accept and still is. We had spoken to so many churches and with so many people about the vision for this country and its people. How could He have brought me thousands of miles from home for…me?

But it was true and it still is true. And I have come to realize I am in good company.

Think of Abraham. God’s promise was to make him a great nation. Yet, he had no child and so Abraham’s heart, his trust in God, was tested again and again. Until after his promised child came. Then God asked for more of Abraham. He asked him to sacrifice his one and only son, the child of the promise. Why? Because more than a mighty nation, God wanted Abraham’s devotion to Him. (see Genesis 22:1-18)

What about Elijah? The prophet spoke for God faithfully. Then he gave everything on a mountain to defeat evil in Israel once and for all. The victory he had over the prophets of Baal was one of the most stunning feats recorded in the Bible. Yet, what happened next? He fled in fear and wished to die. And what did God do? He met him personally, tenderly in the cleft of a rock and with a whisper. Why? Because more than a monumental victory, God wanted Elijah to know Him. (see I Kings 18:22-19:18)

Then, there’s Peter. He was called to walk beside the Messiah. He showed great promise only to miss it and mess up again. And in Jesus’ greatest hour of need, he denied him—the one he had sworn to die for. But here too, what did God want of Peter? When he was restored to ‘feed [Jesus’] sheep’, he was asked one question again and again ‘Do you love me?’ God didn’t want Peter’s zeal but his affection. (see John 21:15-19)

In the courtyard moment, it seemed strange and just too simple to think God wanted me most of all. Wasn’t it just an excuse for not doing more, working harder, giving more fully to the mission? How could my one solitary heart be so important to him?

My heart is this important (and so is yours) because God’s work happens through surrendered lives. It happens through people who know the One for whom they are living. It happens through the active power of God at work within and through his chosen ones. And it happens, so often, after or during failures and shortcomings. It happens in ways in which everything we are is tested.

‘Who can endure the coming of the Lord?… for he is a refiner’s fire’. The greatest things God wants to bring to His world, even the completion of His work and the return of Jesus, come only through purified hearts. It is both freeing and painful. And it is what He is ultimately about in us. It is what He most wants from us.

A new year is coming. It’s a time to re-assess where we are at in our journey. Does God have our hearts? Do we believe he wants us more than anything we do for Him? Do we believe He is big enough to complete his work simply through refining us?

In the end, we cannot give what we do not have. If God is not our treasure and we are not fully open to His molding of us, we cannot give this away to others. And yet, if he is, there is no limit to the beauty, the miracles, the new life—both within and without—that we will see.